As a person with ADHD, my mind doesn’t really have an ‘off’ switch. My working memory definitely has an off switch but my thinker is permanently stuck at full throttle. When I take medication for my ADHD symptoms, this is lessened, but even then, ideas are my constant companion. You know what else? Lots of those ideas are really good. I have ideas for things I want to write about, learn about, read about, sing about, and go and do. There are videos to be recorded, books to be written, charts and graphs to be populated with data to be analyzed. There are opportunities for networking, classes to be developed, marketed and taught, and scripts to be polished. I could go on (and on and on and on…) but you get my point. Of course the best time for this outpouring of initiative and creativity is when I finally lay down in my bed at night but it is not reserved solely for that time. When I was in university, my textbooks and research articles were full of notes in the margins pertaining not to the material I was reading but to ideas triggered by what I was reading.
This constant flow, while intrusive at times and nearly impossible to stop, is not the main problem though. The problem, just as unceasing as the growing pile of ideas, is the guilt that accompanies them. Connected to each idea, each plot, each whim of inspiration, is a sense of obligation to follow through. To actually put pen to paper, to record, to produce something. Of course, this is where the shadow side of my ADHD runs some major interference. To say that I’m not great at following through is an understatement. A lifetime of leaving things undone or underdone takes its toll. Not just the homework and chores of my youth, but bill payments and passport renewals. Along the way, I have felt inadequate, lazy, and stupid. This is a difficult thing to balance, the creative intelligence of my brain with the impaired ability to turn what I think into a reality.
One night as I was inwardly lamenting my seemingly permanent condition, shortly after I had read an article on the emotional challenges associated with giftedness, the thought occurred to me that these ideas were a form of such. The article that I read pointed out the societal implications of the word “gifted”. The author argued that our cultural expectation of receiving a gift is that the receiver should be grateful to have received it. If the individual resents the gift, then they are seen as ungrateful. However, sometimes these gifts come with a heavy burden. He then pointed out that this is not a universal truth but a cultural artifact. The fact remains that gifted people are under no obligation to develop their gift or even share it. This struck a chord with me. I was living under the constant guilt of not following through on my flood of ideas but the source of the guilt was a core belief that I owed it to someone to follow through. The fact is, in this area, I don’t owe anyone. I know that sounds cold but when it comes to developing flashes of inspiration into tangible productivity, there is no obligation to produce.
This may seem either petty or obvious, depending on your stance, but to me, it was very freeing. I could simply watch the ideas as they paraded by. I didn’t need to write them down. I didn’t need to remember them. I didn’t need to make them happen. The ones that really stand out will produce enough push for me to move ahead on them. The ones that don’t will go by the wayside. So, when it comes to feeling like I have to get everything done that can be done, I was wrong about that.